Volunteers in bright green T-shirts surrounded the outside of the pool in the MU Student Recreation Complex on Saturday, while children sat, swimsuits on, ready to start the first event of the third annual COMO Adapted Triathlon.
Volunteers held signs with the names of the child they would be assisting in each event, playing and joking with the children on the sidelines before the triathlon began.
There were smiles all day long as volunteers, parents, grandparents and siblings cheered on the participants, taking photos and videos. After each athlete completed swimming, biking and running he or she was awarded a medal after crossing the finish line.
The COMO Adapted Triathlon is an event put on by students in MU’s physical therapy program that gives children with special needs the opportunity to compete in a triathlon.
The event first came to Columbia three years ago after physical therapy students learned of a similar event in St. Louis.
Jeff Krug, associate teaching professor and director of student activities in the physical therapy program, supervised the event and helped set it in motion.
Krug said his favorite part of the triathlon is seeing the joy on the kids’ faces and the excitement they feel after successfully completing all three events.
“I love for these kids to get a chance to be regular kids and do things that all kids do,” Krug said.
Kayla Friesen, a junior in the physical therapy program and co-coordinator of the triathlon, was one of the students who first helped organize and coordinate the event in 2017.
“(It) just give(s) kids more opportunities to participate in events that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” she said.
Jay and Pauleen Bridgeman have attended the triathlon for three years to watch their daughter Lillian Bridgeman compete.
Lillian, 13, was a natural in the water, as she backstroked her way across the pool. After she finished biking, Lillian’s sister Charlotte embraced her and the two took off to the track, running it together.
Jay Bridgeman said the triathlon is also important for families because coming to an event such as this helps parents gain support and form connections.
“It’s so fun to have something to celebrate,” Pauleen Bridgeman said.
Ry Knopp, 10, was also in attendance with his mother and grandparents. After swimming and biking, Knopp ran to the finish line with a smile on his face and fists raised in the air as he was awarded his medal.
Knopp said his favorite event was either biking or swimming, just “anything but running.”
He said he’s glad he was able to participate.
“I support what they’re doing here,” Knopp said.
Knopp’s grandfather, Jerry Wilkinson, supports the event because it gives children like his grandson the chance to feel like they’ve accomplished something.
“Every kid leaves this thing thinking they won,” Wilkinson said.
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